From the Easter Rising to the Hollywood Hills

When the actor Arthur Shields strode towards the Abbey Theatre on Easter Monday, 1916, it was with one intent -- not to rehearse or act in a play, but to collect his rifle and take part in the greater drama that was about to shake the streets of Dublin.

Pictured, Arthur Shields

Once armed, Shields went around the corner to Liberty Hall and joined with James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army, before marching up to Sackville Street, where he was stationed in the Metropole Hotel (now the location of Penneys clothing store).

By April 28, he and the rest of the men there would have to abandon their positions and join the other rebels inside the GPO, which was already on fire. They didn't stay there very long. Shields and the remaining GPO garrison -- rebel leader Padraig Pearse included -- retreated to Moore Street.

There, they moved from house to house, knocking through dividing walls between the houses' basements. Arthur Shields and six others would eventually find themselves hiding out at the back of Hanlon's fish shop (16 Moore Street).

They were told that they would be the first line when the planned break-out occurred. In the event, that never happened -- the break-out idea was abandoned and surrender was the chosen option, to avoid further bloodshed. Had that not been the case, the movie world might have been deprived of a very fine actor.

After his capture, Shields, alongside Michael Collins, was eventually sent to Frongoch prison camp in Wales. Both men would find themselves back in Dublin by the end of the year -- Collins with a mission to destroy British rule and Shields with a mission to entertain and enthral on the Abbey stage.

Barry Fitzgerald

It is at this point that the story of Arthur Shields becomes even more interesting. Acting was clearly in his blood -- his brother William was also an actor. (He would change his name to Barry Fitzgerald (pictured directly above) and go on to have a stellar career in film, picking up an Oscar along the way.) Interestingly, before fame took hold, 'Barry' actually worked as a civil servant in Dublin Castle.

Both men would journey to the States and appear in legendary director John Ford's film of The Plough and the Stars (Shields played Padraig Pearse), which was released in 1936. It would be the beginning of a long relationship with the movie director.

Shields would appear in The Quiet Man alongside his brother and both Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne; She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (Wayne and O'Hara), and Long Voyage Home (Wayne again and Barry Fitzgerald).

Shields had a priestly quality to him that was useful for his role in the clerical flick, The Keys of The Kingdom, but there were many, many more roles that he played. He died in California in 1970, aged 74.

You might think that one burgeoning Hollywood actor taking part in the Easter Rising would be enough, but there was another, only the second fought on the British side.

That old adage about every picture telling a story is a bit wide of the mark -- some pictures can tell a whole lot more than one. Just take a look at this famous photograph from the Rising, taken on April 29, 1916, of Pearse surrendering to the commander of British forces in Dublin, Major General William Lowe.

There's Pearse in the cape. Beside him, but obscured from view, is Elizabeth O'Farrell, a nurse with Cumann na mBan. It was O'Farrell who would carry the subsequent surrender notes to the other rebel commandants around the city.

In the original version of this image, all that could be seen of O'Farell were her feet, visible beneath Pearse's cape. They looked incongruous, so they were removed and poor Elizabeth lost her place in history -- at least for a while. Her heroism was recently remembered and her name was included among several candidates to be honoured by having a new bridge across the Liffey named after her, alas poor Elizabeth missed out on that opportunity as well.

But, apart from Pearse and the early dig at feminism in the form of the excised Elizabeth O'Farrell, there is another intriguing point to the picture.

That tall man on the left is General Lowe's aide-de-camp and son, Major John Lowe, a man who would have just as remarkable a life story as Arthur Shields, once the dust of the Rising finally settled.

Following his father into the army in the early months of World War I, Lowe had already seen service in Gallipoli and Egypt. He arrived in Ireland just a few days before the outbreak of the rebellion to take up his new appointment as aide-de-camp to his father, who set up his military headquarters in Dublin Castle once hostilities commenced.

In his autobiography, Hollywood Hussar, Lowe Junior speaks in broad terms about the civilian deaths and the fighting in the capital, as well as the destruction of the GPO, but he saves the detail for a fascinating nugget about Padraig Pearse.

Once the surrender had been accepted, Major Lowe brought Pearse, accompanied by a priest, by staff car to Kilmainham Gaol. He recalls the rebel poet giving his watch and ring to the priest to be forwarded to his family.

Lowe showed some compassion in this moment by asking the driver to continue past the Gaol's gates so that the rebel leader would have more time to pass on last messages. As a token of his gratitude, Pearse gave the Major his cap badge as a keepsake, but, according to Lowe, the badge was destroyed during the London Blitz in 1940.

The Major's military career didn't end in Dublin. Lowe later saw service at the Somme before being captured by the Germans in 1918. And that's when things took a more unusual turn for the British officer.

After the war, he decided to remain in Germany to run a pickle factory, but soon turned to acting in movies. Naturally, his father, the General, was aghast, so the wayward son changed his name and became John Loder.

Tall, good-looking and debonair, he managed to get a few small parts before setting his sights higher and heading for Hollywood, where, in 1929, he appeared in Paramount's first talkie, The Doctor's Secret. He returned to England to do some more acting and, during World Wart II, went back to Hollywood as a supporting actor, mainly playing posh aristocrats.

Above, John Loder and Hedy Lamarr

For almost 50 years he would have roles in a plethora of films, including King Solomon's Mines.

Loder clearly liked the ladies, and married five times -- one of his spouses being the Hollywood screen goddess Hedy Lamarr. His final wife was an Argentinian heiress on whose ranch in California he lived until his death in 1988, aged 90.

Shields and Loder may have taken opposite sides during the Rising, but the two former combatants found a common refuge in California and on the movie backlots of Hollywood. One suspects, though, that the greatest role of each of their lives was played on the streets of Dublin in 1916.

This article, written by me, first appeared in the Irish Independent.

Views: 1534

Tags: 1916, Acting, Drama, Film, History of Ireland, Hollywood, Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History, Movies, Theatre, More…War

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on February 4, 2016 at 12:04pm

Hi David , lovely article . I have written an article on Nurse O'Farrell for the Wild Geese ........ She was one spirited young woman,, as were all of Cumann namBan .. I do hope that all of these brave courage's  women get the due respect  and accolades that are long over due to them  on this 100th centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

By chance i have used the same photo as you have, the image of the surrender... in my photos  [3]... you can see , that over the years Nurse O'Farrell had been air brushed out ... the discussions that followed on that photo alone- gave me a deep understanding of how we, as the Irish diaspora are awash with knowledge of our Irish history ...  Lets hope that this Irish Government give then the recognition that they deserve,  Sláinte     

Comment by David Lawlor on February 4, 2016 at 12:17pm

Glad you liked the piece. You're right, the women of the rebellion years have not received due recognition. Here is a link to an article on Elizabeth that might interest you.

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on February 5, 2016 at 6:05am

That she did not want to be photographed.... could this be true.. and if it is ,... then I woudl hazard a guess that it was because she was a woman.. and women did not enter the domain of men, remember women were tied to the kitchen sink and were slave's to the families in this era..

It may have been embarrassment on her part [as a woman] that she was being photographed !!!  That she was eventually airbrushed out of that particular photo, say's much more about those that did air brush her out ,than whatever reason's O'Farrell may have had herself ... If the story that I have just read is true.. where did that  information come from?

Did you know that she went to live in Fatima House Bray Co Wicklow ; not far from the Dart.. a stones throw from Greystones ! As teenagers we went roller skating in Fatima , not realizing the very  important person that Fatima House had as resident before roller skating .  

Comment by David Lawlor on February 5, 2016 at 6:27am

I think she didn't want British Intelligence to have her photo - a wise precaution which Michael Collins himself took. I never knew about he Fatima House connection. That's fascinating. There is an excellent book called Women of The Irish Revolution, by Liz Gillis, which documents the role of the women during these years. It has short portraits of many women who risked everything for the cause of independence, and includes some great photographs.

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on February 5, 2016 at 6:57am

Thanks for the David... the older I get the more I want to know about my history ..  perhaps there is an element of her not wanting British intelligence  to have a photo of her, although  as a woman, [and as a women myself, I am thinking , please God let me be alright in this dangerous task]  her thoughts were purely on her task at hand , in the heat of these very volatile last  hour , running back and forth to General Lowe, she could have been photographed at any time and possibly was. She was after all escorted too and from Moore Street to General Lowe at all stages of the surrender..  

 The very illusive Michael Collins... read  my on article on him [although as a journalists you will perhaps know more about him than me} ..... elusive as he was, he was caught in the end "...   Collins died in an ambush in the village of Béal na Bláth on the 22th August 1922"... mystery still surrounds his death .. Shameful neglect , dereliction of duty, at a crime scene of one of the most important men of that era....   

Comment by Peter Power-Hynes on February 7, 2016 at 11:47am

There has been a difference of opinion about who the officer to the right of General Lowe actually was. Some say it was his son but others say it was Captain Harry de Courcy-Wheeler,  The Natonal Library of Ireland belive it was Captain Harry de Courcy-Wheeler whose wife was a first cousin of Countess Markievicz. Please see "‘At 2.30 pm Commandant General Pearse surrendered to General Lowe accompanied by myself and Lieutenant Lowe at the junction of Moore Street and Great Britain Street. He handed over his arms and military equipment. His sword and automatic repeating pistol in holster with pouch of ammunition, and his canteen, which contained two large onions, were handed to me by Commandant General Pearse. Onions were carried by insurgent troops as iron rations. They were believed to be high in nutriment value.".   "The last surviving child of an executed leader of the Rising, Fr Joseph Mallin SJ, was recorded in Hong Kong for the oral history project as was Dorothea Findlater, the 105-year-old daughter of Capt Henry de Courcy-Wheeler. He was the adjutant to Gen William Lowe and is pictured in the famous photograph of Pearse surrendering to Lowe."   

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on February 7, 2016 at 12:23pm

The hairs stood out on he back of my neck as I watched this video. So poignant , so important that all these families are brought together, to applaud the bravery of their loved ones 

Comment by Micheal O Doibhilin on February 7, 2016 at 12:55pm

Captain Harry de Courcy-Wheeler was in St. Stephen's Green when the Countess was among those who surrendered. he offered her a lift in his car but she preferred to stay with the men and women who had fought and surrendered with her.

Nurse O'Farrell was never "airbrushed" out of that picture. According to Sinead McCoole (author of "No Ordinary Women", "Guns'n'Chiffon" and "Easter Widows" among others) she was PAINTED out by the newspaper which first used the photo because it was felt that to show a woman would have  a deleterious effect on the Irish fighting in the British Army (especially the 200,00 Irish Volunteers who had followed Redmond's call to sign up) if they saw women doing the fighting at home.

Nurse O'Farrell herself says she deliberately stepped back in order not to be photographed when she noticed the photographer as she believed her presence would weaken/could be used to weaken the image of Patrick Pearse as the supreme commander of the Irish.

Comment by David Lawlor on February 7, 2016 at 1:11pm

Thank you Peter for that fascinating information about de Courcy and for those links, and thank you, Micheal, for clarifying the use of 'airbrushed' versus 'painted'

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on February 9, 2016 at 6:53am

Air-brushed -- pained out` / what really is the difference, whether or not it was a Newspaper or a different source who did it . If it is the case [read David Lawlor] link above , that she did not want to be photographed, than that was her wish.

However, on the 100th Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising , it is , in my opinion , this very  moment in time , to dig out the  'original' photograph' and show her as she was, standing right beside Patrick Pearse.. not only to applaud her courage and bravery, in this final scenario of the 1916 Easter Rising; but to honor all those brave women  who served with her .  


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